In this blog I mention certain practice drills that we did. A video of some of those drills can be found here: https://youtu.be/140teImvKdo
Over Memorial Day weekend, we attended a PB camp with Engage in Rohnert Park, California (Sonoma County). Because of our travel experience (See this blog post: https://theadventurousboomer.blog/engage-pickleball-camp-travel-fun/),
and because of the ridiculous costs of just about everything in California, we were quite grumpy and had very low expectations.
Fortunately, the two pros who ran the camp were great, and we not only had fun, but learned a lot.
One pro was Brett Noel. Brett has been a professional pickleball trainer with “Coachable Pickleball” for quite a while and is a 3 times national gold medal winner. Brett was engaging and had a great sense of humor. He included all players and made them feel comfortable, regardless of their level. He pointed out the basics repeatedly during the camp, as well as pointing out mistakes made by more advanced players (like me, supposedly).
The other pro was Tammy Patys. Tammy grew up in Plantation, Florida, training with tennis legends Chris Evert & Tim Gullikson. In junior tennis, she was a Top 5 Florida Junior and Top 10 USTA National Junior. Tammy played at the University of Florida where she was a two-time All American and four-time All-SEC player. In 2019, her first competitive year in Pickleball, Tammy won three Gold Medals as well as a Silver in Women’s Doubles & Bronze in Mixed Doubles at the Texas Open. She also won the Triple Crown (3 Golds) at the Oklahoma Senior Games. In 2020, Tammy won Bronze at the PPA $50,000 Mesa, AZ tournament in Mixed with big wins over 3 national top teams & 4th in Women’s Doubles.
So, a couple of pretty accomplished players!
Brett led the lessons, while Tammy roamed around and interjected comments when required.
Dinking (which Brett calls drop shots):
- How to grip the paddle while dinking (on a scale of 1 to 10, a 3 or 4).
- How to position your feet while dinking (feet slightly wider than shoulders).
- How to position your body (Brett pointed out I tend to hang out to the left of center, leaving my right side open).
Third shot: Brett started with the traditional third shot drop, but pointed out that the game is changing, and third shot drives are becoming more common. We did a drill, that my wife and I do, where we hit third drop shots from the NVZ, the middle of the court (transition zone), and the baseline. Then we did the same thing with third shot drives.
Brett suggested that we “count” when we hit drop shots, no matter where they are hitting them from. So, when your opponent (or practice partner) hits the ball, you say “1.” Then, when it bounces, you say “2.” Finally, when you hit the ball, you say “3.” This exercise lets you know the value of deep shots because, when a shot is hit deep to you, you can say “1” nice and slowly, but then “2” and “3” in a hurry.
Where to serve: I tend to stand in the middle of the service court no matter which side I’m serving to. Brett suggested that you should change that position depending on where you are serving. Stand more to the side line if you are serving to the even court, and more to the middle if you are serving to the odd court. That way (if your opponent is right-handed) you are more likely to get the ball returned to you.
Positioning: We all know what that is about – moving to where the ball has been hit and where it is going to be returned (most likely). So, if a ball is hit down the line to your partner, your responsibility is the middle and “everything else,” while your partner has to guard the line.
Hit n’ Move: Brett suggested that a lot of us, when we hit a great shot, tend to stand still and admire it. Then when it comes back, we are taken by surprise. I am guilty of this! So, he said that after we hit a shot, we should move. This could be getting to the net, or just making sure you are moving your feet while waiting to see what happens next.
Paddle up: Make sure your “ready position” is one in which your paddle is chest high, not waist high. So, when you finish your dink, it’s extremely important to bring your paddle back up into the ready position. You really don’t know if your opponent is going to dink back to you or perhaps hit a drive. With your paddle ready, you will be able to handle either one.
We then went through a number of drills, one of which was playing a game in which you had to hit a third shot drop. That takes a lot of discipline and the points last longer (believe it or not).
Day 2 was a break in the pickleball action, and a visit to the Kendall Jackson Winery for a 5-course wine pairing luncheon. I blogged about this in a different post here: https://theadventurousboomer.blog/kendall-jackson-winery-tour/
After the luncheon we went to the town of Sebastopol and the Barlow Market District. The Barlow Market District is a 12.5-acre outdoor marketplace featuring distilleries, breweries, wineries, restaurants, and shopping boutiques. It is in Sonoma County and, therefore, there were a lot of wine opportunities.
We focused on serves and returns of serve in the AM. For serving, the pros wanted us to try 3 different types of serves: drive serve, lob serve, and “angry” or spin serve. The catch was that we had to get each type of serve in the last third of the receiving box. After practicing those serves, we played some games in which you could not win a point unless your serve landed in the last third of the service box. In fact, we played rally scoring, so the importance of getting the serve deep was emphasized.
After that, we practiced return of serve, again emphasizing getting the return in the last third of the court to which you were returning. Then we played some games where both the serve and the return of serve had to land in the last third of the court. It was pretty amazing how people who were accustomed to hitting hard, short serves, learned how to get softer serves deep.
After we broke for lunch, we focused on “beating the bangers.” Someone would stand in the middle of the court at the baseline and blast the ball at someone at the net. The person at the net had two tasks: drop the ball into the NVZ, or hit the ball deep and low to the person hitting the drive. To drop the ball, Brett and Tammy said, “Pretend you have a quarter on the face of your paddle and you don’t want it to drop NVZ. That was a good tip.
Then we played some more games with the proviso that the third shot had to be a drive. By that time, I was pretty worn out.
Great day all in all.
Dinking and speed up (cooperative)
We all know what “speed up” means—it is when you are dinking, and you get the chance to drive the ball at your opponent. However, a lot of players want blast the ball and tend to wind up. We were taught that when you see a player winding up—duck! The ball will most likely sail out or hit the top of the net. Hit the ball with pace, but not like a maniac.
To experience speed up, we played two against two. We had to dink five times and then speed up when we got a chance to drive the ball. Also, if my partner were to hit a crosscourt dink way to our opponents backhand or forehand, one of us would cover the line (where the ball was hit) and the other would cover the middle.
This is a dinking drill whereby two players dink to each other while incrementally moving parallel to the NVZ line between shots. Players can move to the same side of the court or in opposite directions during the drill.
We also did this drill while volleying, a much more difficult drill.
The key to mastering this drill is to shuffle your feet, not to use crossover steps. Crossover steps take time away from you and force you to reset your dink position.
Lob off the dink with one person back
This exercise was in two parts: the first was to learn how to lob off a dink by disguising your intentions, and the second was to enforce the idea that when you go back for a lob, your best shot is a third shot drop.
Part 1 is self-explanatory. If you are dinking properly, you should be able to lob without giving away the fact that you are going to lob. It is the same motion as a dink, but you follow through higher.
In the second part of the drill, one person stays at the baseline. When the person at the net is lobbed, the person at the baseline will yell “I got it” or “mine.” The person at the net then rotates out of the way and the person hits a third shot drop and gets up to the net.
Around the world
This was, in my opinion, one of the best drills we learned. Here is how it works (I hope my drawing is comprehensible).
You put down six targets on the court, three across the middle, and three across the baseline.
- One player is the feeder, and the other player the returner. The feeder hits a ball to the player starting at the NVZ and the drill proceeds as follows:
- The returner moves across the court, first hitting dinks from the three positions shown, making sure to return them to the feeder.
- The returner drops back to the middle and crosses in the other direction, again returning to the feeder.
- The returner then drops back to the baseline, crosses in one direction and then again in the other direction.
- The returner goes to the middle and ultimately the NVZ again, finishing where he started.
When this is done, the feeder and the returner switch roles. Then, when the second round is finished, the feeder moves to the middle and ultimately to the other end of the court. This drill accomplishes the following:
- Dinking (or drop shotting) from different positions on the court, emphasizing different distances and directions.
- Dinking to a specified point in the opponent’s court
- Moving your feet so that you are ready to hit the ball.
My wife and I thought that this was such a great drill that, despite being brain dead from traveling back from California to Georgia, we got out early in the morning the next day and practiced it.
Skinny singles is a form of singles in pickleball that divides the playing court in half, making it easier to cover ground while still playing one vs. one. We played straight on rather than cross court, with the proviso that the third shot had to be a drop shot. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about skinny singles.
Practice drop shots with trash cans
Brett put three trash cans in one of the NVZs as show below.
An outdoor trash can is usually 22 inches in diameter, so the three together as shown would be at most 66 inches, leaving about 2 feet between the net and the NVZ line (actually more than that because the middle can is up against the sides of the other cans).
He then fed us balls, and we attempted to land them in the cans. Now, in order to get certified as a Level 2 instructor, you have to be able to land 8 out of ten drops shots in the NVZ from the baseline, 8 cross court, and 8 straight on from each side of the court. I practiced and practiced and aced this requirement, so I figured that this would be a snap for me.
Think again. Although my drop shots landed in the NVZ, they landed beyond the cans. So, Brett suggested that I change to more of a push drop shot (think soft drive). Voila! I started getting them in the cans. This exercise changed my whole thought process about drop shots.
My wife said she was going to go out and get three trash cans. I hope she was kidding.
Yes, once again, although this time it was all out. I was doing okay until the younger players started coming my way. I will say no more about that.
This was a great camp. Engage knows how to put on a memorable event with terrific instruction. The side trip to KJ was a once in a lifetime experience, although we joined the wine club, so it may be a yearly experience for us. Would it be worth it for us to fly to CA for one of the dinners? YES!
Engage gave us the opportunity to “test drive” a number of their paddles. Here is Brett showing us all of the paddles we could test.
One we tested was quite nice, the Pursuit Ultra MX 6.0 Carbon Fiber—Elongated. As part of the camp, Engage offered $100 off any paddle we may want. My wife and I have A LOT of paddles at home, I mean a lot, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one (or two) more in the next few weeks.
We were on the courts for four hours in the morning, and then one or more hours in the afternoon. I have just started wearing Acacia PB shoes because I have Morton’s Neuroma and, in the past, would not have been able to be on the courts for that long. I’m happy to say that I was able to handle all five hours!
If you want to read a review of the shoes I used, follow this link: https://theadventurousboomer.blog/acacia-pickleball-shoes-review/
For women, follow this link:
Once again, a video of some of those drills can be found here: https://youtu.be/140teImvKdo